Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Post You've Been Waiting For: How To Cure Your Constipation

I planned on writing the third - and final - installment in my food journey posts today. But I got an e-mail from a reader asking me to "please blog some more on what you did to poop!!" I had to laugh. I've spent hours perfecting recipes or trying to get the perfect photo for a blog post. And yet what finally got you all commenting and e-mailing me was talking about bowel movements. Am I surprised? I guess not. After all, one of my favorite bloggers is the lovely FartyGirl, who candidly talks about her struggles with IBS. Why should you be any different? We all love recipes, and don't worry, I have a new one coming soon for Sugar-Free, Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. But we also want to feel our best. And frankly, when you're constipated, you feel like crap. Pun intended.

So here's the deal. I'm going to write honestly about how I've become regular for the first time since high school. But there's a warning. This is all way TMI. If you don't want to know so much about what I do in the bathroom, please do us both a favor and stop reading now. And if you're a close friend or family member who I probably don't want to know about this, you can also stop reading. I'll let you use your own judgment to determine if you think I would care. (Although chances are, I don't.)

Now below is a pretty photo of Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. Enjoy the photo and decide if you want to scroll down. Because after that, everything's fair game.

"I struggle every day with what my purpose in life is. How am I meant to make a difference? If nothing else, when all is said and done, I hope that I shall be known as the woman who taught you how to poop."

Who said that? I did. This morning, after realizing that maybe my purpose in life is just to be honest. That perhaps all of these strange health issues I deal with have simply been given to me so that I can learn how to deal with them, and then share my story with you. Or at least I like to think there's some sort of divine reason. I try to find purpose in everything; it makes the difficult parts of life much easier to handle.

Okay, I know why you're here, so I'll get to it. Here's my little disclaimer. I just wrote a long ass post about how you need to listen to your own body and not just blindly follow someone else's rules. That applies here. I'm going to list everything that has made a difference for me, but know that my body is only my body. I can't tell you that this post will be the answer to all your bathroom woes. But I can hope that it helps.

Now first, let's talk about a term that will be very important here. PTPD. Post Traumatic Poop Disorder. It was coined by my sister to describe that awful feeling after you've had a bowel movement, but you feel like you're not really done and the rest is just stuck in there. To her, it was an occasional problem. To me, it was every single day. I've had PTPD every time I've gone to the bathroom for just about the don't know...13 years? So that's what my constipation was like. It's not that I couldn't go every day; It was just always unpleasant, always required straining like a woman giving birth and being told to PUSH, and always left me feeling unsatisfied.

This finally changed in the last month, and I can tell you that although a little PTPD still lingers here and there, I actually feel pretty normal these days. Well, at least in that area. I'm still dealing with other health issues, and I feel I have to tell you that having regular bowel movements has not stopped me from being bloated. I'm not as bloated all the time, and I feel much more comfortable, but clearly there are still many digestive issues that need to be dealt with. Yet it's all a process, and this is one more box I can check off. Daily awesome poops? Check!

Poop. Are you as tired of reading that word as I am right now? I hate saying bowel movements. It sounds so clinical. But any other word just sounds gross. We called it pooping in my house growing up, so that's what I say. One of my best friends calls it shmooing, and that's actually my favorite term, but then no one knows what you're talking about when you say you have to shmoo. And any other word either sounds silly or crass. Sigh. And so here I am, halfway through a post in which I have yet to tell you anything, and all I can think about is that I wish there was a better word for this...this "activity" that we do in the bathroom. But I suppose any word we give to it would eventually take on an icky connotation. But I digress...

Here, in no special order, is the list of factors that have finally cured me of PTPD. Most of the ideas on this list are nothing special and nothing that you haven't read before in relation to constipation. But they're here because despite being told to do most of these things over and over, I realized that it was the combination of doing EVERYTHING on this list EVERY DAY that made the difference for me. So like all else in life, there's no magical cure. You just have to do the work. Oh and by the way, doing the following activities daily might also make you happier, healthier, and probably lose weight while you're at it. No joke.
  • Eat vegetables at least twice a day, and make sure that one large helping consists of raw leafy greens. For years, I ate cereal or yogurt for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and then only had vegetables with my dinner. It never occurred to me (this was before I became a nutrition-loving food-blogging nut) that I wasn't eating enough vegetables. But there you have it. Simple, obvious, and the solution to so many problems in life. I've noticed that if at least one of my meals each day includes a large salad with leafy greens of some sort, I'm pretty much guaranteed a satisfying trip to the bathroom.
  • Eat a high fiber meal or snack every day. Eating leafy greens alone doesn't do it for me. I also need to include the following for breakfast or a snack:
    •  I eat about 4 tablespoons of ground flax or chia seeds every day. I mix them into some combination of: baked sweet potatoes or cooked brown rice with non-dairy milk, unsweetened applesauce, gluten-free oats (raw or cooked), and/or avocado. More often than not, I stir together unsweetened applesauce, raw oats, and ground flax seeds, adding a little stevia in if I'm in the mood. If you don't eat grains, I recommend applesauce, sweet potato, or winter squash plus ground flax or chia seeds. You can add a little water or milk and mush it all together.
  • Avoid any foods you're sensitive to. This seems like an obvious one to me, but I think we tend to forget that it really makes a difference. Sometimes we don't know what we're sensitive to, but other times we do, and we're just pretending we don't. Ask yourself honestly if there's something you know your body doesn't like but you're eating it anyway. Then ask yourself what you would rather have. The food you should avoid or regular bowel movements? It's your decision.
  • Avoid sugar. Again, just ask yourself what's more important to you. Sweets or regularity? You might find you'd rather suffer from constipation than give up your desserts. And that's okay. But just be honest with yourself if that's how you feel. 
  • Drink at least 64 ounces of water a day; more if you're working out. You'll have to pee a lot. Deal with it.
  • Move your body! Getting your blood flowing works miracles. Yoga, running, and even just standing in one spot and bouncing up and down all work for me. 
  • Go to the bathroom immediately any time you feel the urge! I played soccer when I was in high school, and I always had to use the bathroom right after school. But I was too uncomfortable pooping in the public bathrooms where everyone would know what I was doing. So I always held it in during practice. Can you imagine what that did to my digestive system? It's no wonder I have problems! Now, I find a bathroom any time I need to. However, I'm still working on this because I find it almost impossible to go if I know someone is nearby. Freud would have a field day with me. 
  • Stop straining and start breathing. This is the most important thing on this list. I'll repeat it. This is the most important thing on this list. Think about it. When you're constipated, what do you do? You sit on the toilet and strain and hold your breath. This is absolutely the last thing you should be doing (not to mention that all that straining could literally lead to a brain aneurysm). The more tense you are, the less your body is able to function properly. So sit back, relax, and do some nice belly breaths. You know, those ones where you breathe in slowly through your nose and watch your stomach fill up, then breath out equally slowly and watch your stomach go down. It's multitasking really. You get 5 minutes of daily meditation and a satisfying bathroom break at the same time. I have no doubt that this one change has made the biggest difference for me. It might feel foreign to you at first because you're so used to forcing your bowel movements. But eventually, all it will take is a few relaxing breaths and everything will just flow naturally. No more PTPD. If you can't go after some time, your body's just not ready. Try again later and don't force it.
  • Set up a schedule. In order to be regular, it helps to have a "regular" bathroom schedule. Set aside 15 minutes 2 or 3 times a day, and plan on sitting down on the toilet whether you have the urge to go or not. Don't force anything. Just sit and relax and breathe. If you go, great. If not, you'll try again later. I find that first thing in the morning and after dinner are the best times for me. Eventually, you won't need a schedule (or 15 minutes), but it can be helpful in the beginning.
  • Keep some reading material in the bathroom. We all know people who keep magazines in the bathroom, and it always seemed funny to me because it's like they're announcing to everyone that they spend a long time on the toilet. How embarrassing! But now that you've read the last bullet point, you know I've clearly spent a lot of time in the bathroom. My secret is up! So I'll tell you another secret. I keep a romance novel and/or self-help book in the drawer next to the toilet. Pulling out a good Nora Roberts or Martha Beck book immediately puts my brain in vacation mode and makes me feel relaxed. This also keeps me from getting bored and impatient, which allows me to relax more. Which allows me to breathe, which allows me to...well, you know.
  • Squat. Okay, go with me on this one. If you can tell you sort of have to go, but it's just not going to happen, squat down like that guy on the right side below and hang out for a while. Again, use it as an opportunity to multitask. Grab a book or watch TV for about five minutes. Or use the time to stretch your inner thighs by placing your palms together and pressing your elbows against your inner thighs. Usually if you squat long enough, you'll suddenly have a strong urge to go to the bathroom. That's when you GO!

Photo Credit:
And that, my lovelies, is it. The most awkward post I've written. Yet. But then, I haven't told you about my natural yeast infection remedy, so who could get even worse. Even as I'm typing this, I'm contemplating just how much I should tell you because getting rid of my yeast infection resulted in an extremely awkward situation. It also still makes me laugh whenever I think about it. But do I want to tell you? Yeah, you know me. I'll end up spilling the details. It's just too good not to share.

    Photo Credit:
    Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go shmoo.


    Tasty Eats At Home said...

    Iris, I love you. You made what is a taboo, uncomfortable subject funny and interesting to read about. Thank you for writing this! I wasn't going to make you write up a post about poop, even though I was curious. :) I'm sure you'll help a LOT of people wiht your tips. Personally, I've found that while I always eat a ton of veggies, get my exercise, etc, I wasn't always adding something like flax and/or chia. Adding some every day has made a world of difference, even though my overall fiber grams/day stayed the same (Also for me, lowering my meat consumption. But I'm not sure if that's a "me" thing or a general thing.) There, I've contributed my "poop" help. :) Hugs!

    Stephanie said...

    LOL, loved your last line. Thanks for sharing your honesty and helping so many on a healing journey to POOP better! Lots of love to you- as always! Stephanie

    Kim Bouldin said...

    Great post & tips!! I also found after eating a large spinach salad for lunch and mixed greens with dinner things improved.

    Can't wait to hear the yeast infection cure....

    Unknown said...

    love the poop post!! and so grateful to you (and the other blogging lovelies out there) who share tips on getting the good poops (coming from a gal who has also struggled with constipation my entire adult life - yeah, fun stuff, right?). Thanks, Iris! :)

    Erica said...

    You seriously crack me up! Thanks for this post!

    Gina said...

    This is an awesome post! As a person who suffers - or used to suffer - from the same problem I can attest to the fact that these things help a lot. The flax and chia seeds are a new discovery for me too. They really do help. The only thing about them is that they can contribute to the gas/bloating problem. My trick is to grind them up super fine. If they don't look fine enough I sift them and re-grind what didn't make it through a fairly fine mesh sifter.

    I also wanted to say that for me it can take more than a month of regularity to get the bloating to come down, so don't give up!

    Okay, I'm putting your blog on my blog roll so I don't miss your natural home remedy for yeast.

    Thanks for bringing up an issue that everyone needs to talk about more!

    Stephanie Mckenzie said...

    Great info thanks for having the guts to share it!!

    I've found the reading to be extremely helpful too and used to make fun of my hubby when he would go into the bathroom with a book, now I do it too lol.

    The other tips are terrific, I will be implementing them to see how they work for my body.


    Cindy said...

    One of the best posts I've read all month! Thank you for taking on this embarrassing subject.

    Anonymous said...


    Yes to the breathing. It helps the most for me too.

    Greens, fiber, low sugar, and extra water were all a no for me.

    This year I have become regular. I am now 50. I learned for me fiber causes constipation as does fruit. Wahhaa? I know.
    I have to limit all the good stuff.
    I don't do well with lots of dairy and, meat either. My body loves white rice, white potatoes, and about 32 ounces of fluids. True.
    Things are working great. Bloating is gone.

    Thanks for sharing! Enjoyed the post.

    Kalinda said...

    Nice work Iris. It takes a brave lady to be so candid. On the internet no less. You managed to make it funny too. (You did say poop a lot, my 3 year old nephew would love to hang out with you.) ;) So, good job.

    hunterslyonesse said...

    It's funny. Since you were commenting on FB about someone asking for the poop post, I was thinking today about if you were doing it or not and then about a friend who loves to tell us all the time, "Everybody poops!" I think it's his favorite book.

    It's been a long time since I had problems going. There might be a day where I don't, but then the next day I'm pooping again as usual. When I was a kid, my mother used to make me haupia when I was constipated. I don't know why it helped me go, but it did. As an adult, I would eat mango to help if if I was a bit stuck too long. But now, I'm pretty regular with all the fruits and veggies I eat all day long. :D

    Scotty said...

    IMO Constipation is more closely linked with metabolic rate, body temperature, and thyroid function.

    "Take sloth digestion for example. They eat, and the food takes 30 days to get out the other end because they digest it so slowly. In a reduced metabolic state, the bowel transit time slows down to extract as many calories from the food as possible. It stays in the gut fermenting and putrefying, causing gas and irritation and inflammation and toxin absorption, bacteria proliferate (in humans this might cause bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine, or SIBO – in turn causing fructose malabsorption, hypoglycemia, yada yada), stool moisture decreases causing stool hardening typical of the constipated, this causes gas and more irritation – potentially wearing away at the intestinal wall and causing serious problems and who knows what else, straining to expel stools can cause hemorrhoids, fissures, diverticulitis, and varicose veins, and on and on and on and on. It is all interconnected to metabolic rate."

    Authors like Stephan Langer, Mark Starr, Jaquos Hertoge and many other endocrinologists had similar conclusions when they administered desiccated thyroid to their patients and saw a dramatic change in bowel function along with many other health markers.

    Good luck to all in their quest for healthy poop.

    Anonymous said...

    That was great! Good job and well said! I just wanted to say I had the same problem as well. Another thing that helped me was taking a tbsp of cold-pressed oils (I use Vega) every day or every other day; the healthy oils/EFA's are supposed to coat your intestines and colon making digestion easier! It's gross tasting, but just a quick shot of it helps ME. No more PTPD for me! ~Meg

    Alisa said...

    Iris, we haven't communicated a lot, but I've enjoyed your blog for a while - now, I simply adore you! The fact that you were able to chat about this and with such a sense of humor - amazing lady.

    GiGi Eats Celebrities said...

    I WISH WISH WISH I could say that these tips helped me but they have not. NOTHING HAS!! I am THISCLOSE to going to get a colonic and then going once a month to CLEAN ME OUT! I know it's not the healthiest approach but I am completely at my whits END!!! I have 7 to 10 pounds of SLUDGE stuck in me and I am going BONKERS because of it! I am not pregnant with a child, I am pregnant with 32984987437 spaghetti squash, spinach, butternut squash and all the other fiber I chow down on on a daily basis! Eff my life! Oh I guess it doesn't help that I don't have a large intestine, oh wait, you would think things would SPEED UP! Yeah. NOPE! :(

    But I am totally STOKED that you pooped today and are feeling good! I am envious!

    Pure2raw twins said...

    great post! we have talked about constipation on our blog. we agree making time is very important and not stressing while in there. in terms of fiber, we noticed no difference when we eat lots of flax or chia vs having none. So we know those do not help us. Also veggies, we eat them all day long and notice no difference. But everyone is different, and like you said it is doing everything together.
    Constipation is still something we struggle with, it sucks as we feel we eat clean :(
    but we keep experimenting and hopefully one day we find the answer.

    GF Gidget said...

    HAHAHAHA! Believe it or not, I get super excited when I have a good poop, even going so far as to brag about it to my husband and sisters! That may sound crass, but if you were me you would understand! Despite the ridiculous amount of veggies and fiber in my diet, I only have a bowel movement 2-3 times a week and have been that way since i was a baby.

    Tanya said...

    To Gigi above (or anyone, really!): one word: MAGNESIUM!


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